“Postnatal depression blood test breakthrough” proclaimed the headline. The UK Guardian article then declared:
British doctors reveal ‘extremely important’ research that could help tens of thousands of women at risk.
Here it comes. Readers were going to be fed a press release generated by the study’s authors and forwarded undigested by the media but disguised as writings of a journalist. If only the journo had asked someone in the know about the likelihood of a single study yielding such breakthrough blood test for risk of depression in new mothers.
The story echoed earlier churnalism from Sky News, British satellite television news service:
There is evidence that if you can identify women at risk early you could treat early or introduce measures to prevent or stop the process of the disease.
A study of 200 pregnant women, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, found two molecular “signatures” in the genes that increased the risk of postnatal depression by up to five times. One in seven new mothers suffer from depression.
I distinctly remember the day I attended a “drug lunch” (as a PM&R resident in New York City) to learn about the value of donepezil (Aricept) for the treatment of dementia. I was surprised by the drug’s lack of efficacy – the graph displayed in the PowerPoint show demonstrated a 2-point improvement on the Mini Mental State Exam (MMSE), an effect that began after 6 months of donepezil use, and persisted for only 6 months after that. A 2-point difference on the MMSE has no clinical relevance of which I’m aware. The drug’s common side effects include: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, tiredness, drowsiness, trouble sleeping, or muscle cramps. That day I realized that the risk-benefit profile did not support its use.
Nonetheless, I was perplexed by the number of patients who came to the hospital already on the medication. Over and over again I heard the same story: “Mom is becoming forgetful so our doctor started her on this medication to help her memory.” (more…)